Drive My Bike


Understanding Clipless Pedals – Installing Cleats On Shoes
May 23, 2009, 11:58 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

In my previous posts about clipless pedals I covered two of the clipless systems available, and also what kinds of clipless shoes are available. Once you buy your shoes and pedals you’ll need to attach your cleats to your shoes. That’s what I’m going to show here.

CleatCompare

Installing your cleats is actually very easy. I’m going to focus on SPD cleats, as shown on the shoe on the right in the above picture. If you have a different kind of cleat then you’ll need to adapt these instructions, but the basic steps should be the same.

When you purchase your pedals they will probably come with cleats and all of the hardware that you need to attach them to your shoes:

SPDPedalParts

Here’s a close-up of the cleats themselves:

SPDCleatsCloseUp

These cleats are identical, so there is no right or left that you have to worry about, but they do have a front and back, and it matters which side you place towards the sole of the shoe. You can see the “teeth” on the cleat on the right. These go against the bottom of the shoe, and they bite into the sole to help prevent the cleat from sliding around. The oval washer goes on top of the cleat, between the cleat and screw, and allows for a bit of lateral adjustment of the cleat as you tighten the screw.

When you buy your shoes they may have a “plug” that is screwed into the spot where you will put the cleats:

CleatInstall1

Simply remove those screws and it should come right off:

CleatInstall2

I am using a hex driver on my multi-tool to remove these screws. Use the proper driver for whatever type of fastener came on your shoes.

Once you get the plug removed you’ll see the empty spot where you’ll attach your cleats:

CleatInstall3

There is a metal plate underneath the plastic sole of the shoe that “floats” so that you can set your cleats where you like them. There are two sets of screw holes in the plate, depending on where you want to set your cleat. The advice I was given was to start with your cleat in the middle and ride that way for a bit, then make adjustments as needed. I use the top set of screw holes so that my cleats are in the middle. This has worked well for me and I don’t feel the need to adjust them. You can see the impressions in the plastic where the teeth from my cleats bit in when tightened.

Beware that some shoes have a removable insole that presses against the back of the metal screw plate inside the shoe. If this is the case, and you are holding the shoe upside down like in the picture, the insole might raise up a bit, allowing the metal screw plate to get out of alignment with the slots in the sole, or the plate might even fall out. If this happens, don’t panic, just put the plate back in place, then put your hand inside the shoe to press against the insole and reposition the screw plate so it lines up with the slots. You’ll probably need to keep your hand there to hold the plate in place until you get one of the screws started.

At this point you may want to put just a touch of grease on the tips of the screws so that they will go into the screw plate easily and won’t seize up on you when you need to replace your cleats.

Now put your cleats on the shoe, approximately where you want them, being sure that the “toothy” side of the cleat is against the plastic, and the pointy “nose” of the cleat is towards the toe of the shoe. Put the oval washer on top of the cleat in the recessed space, and put the screws in, using your fingers to get them started, but don’t tighten anything yet. Check the position of the cleat. At this point you can move the cleat around so that it is where you want it.

Once you get it in the right position then you can tighten the screws:

CleatInstall4

Be sure they are good and tight. You don’t want to muscle them so hard that you bend or break anything, but they need to be tight enough that the cleat doesn’t move around or come loose.

When you are done it should look like this:

CleatInstall5

Be sure that you check these screws regularly to make sure they are still tight. I had one of my cleats loosen a bit the other day, and it almost made it so that I couldn’t unclip, which was a bit scary for a few moments.

One more thing worth mentioning. You’ll notice the big “M” on the cleat in the picture above. There are two kinds of SPD cleats. The black cleats in the picture towards the top of this page don’t have an “M” on them, and are unclipped by turning the heel of your shoe to the side, which is the more traditional way. The silver cleat in the picture above is more forgiving and allows a multidirectional motion (hence the “M”) of the heel to release the cleat. You can move the heel to the side, or up and to the side, and the pedal will release. These cleats are a bit easier to learn with and you might want to consider them. I didn’t know the difference before, but my first set of SPD pedals came with “M” cleats, so that is what I started with.

Hopefully this series on clipless pedals has been helpful. I really like “clipping in” now, and if you can try it I think you will also be glad to join the clipless club. I’d love to hear of your experiences and adventures, so leave me a comment.

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Understanding Clipless Pedals – The Shoes

If you are new to modern bicycling, or even just unfamiliar with clipless pedals, then the options can be confusing. In my last post about clipless pedals I gave an overview of two of the common clipless pedal systems available. In this post I’m going to talk about the different kinds of shoes that are available.

3ShoesTop

Clipless shoes come in several different varieties. There are shoes for racing, with special kinds for both road and mountain bikes. There are shoes for casual riding, such as commuting or taking a spinning class. There are also specialty shoes, such as sandals. The picture above shows examples of these:

  • On the Left is a racing shoe for Road Bikes. It is equipped with a cleat for a Look clipless pedal.
  • In the Middle is a shoe intended for casual riding. It is what I wear for my daily commuting and my spinning class. It is equipped with a cleat for an SPD clipless pedal.
  • On the Right is a bicycling sandal. The weather has finally gotten warm enough that I wore this sandal last week for my commute. It is equipped with a cleat for an SPD clipless pedal.

What are the differences in these shoes? Basically it comes down to three things, Compatibility, Functionality, and Comfort.

Compatibility is probably the most fundamental difference. The road shoe is compatible with a cleat for a Look pedal, and casual shoe and sandal are both compatible with a cleat for an SPD pedal.

3ShoesBottom

I compared these systems in my previous post, and also mentioned that there are other systems available. Whatever system you choose to use, you will need to make sure that the shoes you buy will accommodate a cleat to work with your pedals.

Functionality is another difference, in other words, what kind of riding are you going to be doing? The racing shoe has a strap system, much like a ski boot, that offers a very secure fit designed for high performance. You can cinch it down tightly for minimal foot movement and maximum power transfer when you are doing serious riding. They are also very lightweight. The casual shoe offers a simple lace up system that is simple and comfortable, with no fancy moving parts. It won’t secure your foot as well as the racing shoe, and it is a bit heavier, but it is great for more casual riding. The sandal… well, it is a sandal. It is intended for rides when casual and comfortable are the theme of the day.

3ShoesSide

Comfort comes in two flavors, on the bike, and off the bike. If you pick a pair of shoes that fit well, then your comfort on the bike should be good, no matter what.

The big difference will come when you get off the bike.

The Look style cleat on the road shoe extends almost a half an inch off of the bottom of the shoe. When you walk in that shoe it can be quite awkward, because you are literally walking on the cleat. It can be slippery on smooth floors, and it is easy to roll an ankle if you aren’t careful. Of course, if you buy a pair of road shoes then you are probably far more concerned about riding in them than walking around.

The SPD Cleat on the other shoes is set into a cutout in the sole, so it is virtually flush with the bottom of the shoe. That means that walking in these shoes feels much more natural and comfortable. You still make a clickety-clack noise when you walk, kind of like wearing tap shoes, and it can get slippery if you step right where the cleat is, so you still have to be careful.

What shoe is best for you? Only you can answer that question. Figure out what kind of riding you are going to do, then go take a look at some of the shoes that are available. Try some of them on and find a pair that is comfortable, then find out what type of cleats those shoes are compatible with and get some pedals to match. Of course, if you have already purchased your pedals, then that will limit your selection a bit. This would be a good time to visit your local bike shop and get their advice. I purchased my shoes at REI, and the people there were very helpful.

Personally, I have chosen to go with the SPD system because I prefer wearing my casual shoes, and I enjoy being able to walk around easily if I ride to the grocery store. The sandals are also compatible with my SPD pedals, and I have decided that I love wearing them in warmer weather. They are so comfortable that I kept them on the entire day last week and wore them around the office and out to lunch. (Yes, we have a very casual work environment).

Another consideration is what to do if you have multiple bikes. If you put the same kind of clipless pedals on all of your bikes, then you might be able to get by with a single pair of shoes. On the other hand, if you are hard core, and can afford multiple shoes and systems, then you may prefer to have specific shoes for specific bikes. The racing shoes actually belong to my friend Jake, and his road bike has a nice set of Look pedals. I’m babysitting Jake’s bike while he is in Africa, and even though his shoes fit me, I really prefer to use my SPD shoes, so I’ve decided to purchase a cheaper set of SPD pedals to replace his Look pedals. (Jake, if you read this, know that I’m taking good care of your baby while you are gone).

Once again, it is all about finding out what works for you. Don’t worry so much about “the rules” here, just try some things and see what you prefer.

I’ve got one more post planned in this series where I will briefly show how to install the cleats on your shoes once you make your purchase.

See you next time….

UPDATE: You can read more about installing cleats on your shoes here.



Understanding Clipless Pedals – Two Common Systems

It seems like a lot of people are searching for information on clipless pedals these days, so I thought I’d write a bit more about what I’ve learned recently. For this post, I’m going to explain two of the most common clipless systems available: “Look” and “SPD”.

Clipless Cleat Comparison (Look and SPD)

When I started shopping for clipless pedals I really had no idea what I wanted or needed, I just knew that I wanted some shoes that I could use both on my bike and on the spinning machines at our gym. I have learned a lot since then, and I settled on Shimano’s SPD system for my Trek mountain bike, which I use for commuting. At the same time I’m also watching over my friend Jake’s sweet road bike while he’s in Africa for a year, and his bike and shoes are based on the Look system, so I’ve also had a little experience with that lately.

Let’s talk about these two common clipless systems, Look (primarily for road bikes), and Shimano SPD (originally for mountain bikes, but now also found on road bikes).

In the picture above the Look system is on the left, and the SPD system is on the right. You can see that one of the biggest differences is that the Look cleat is much larger, probably three times the size of the SPD cleat.

Here’s what the Look pedal looks like:

LookPedal

Here’s a close up of the Look cleat and Look pedal next to each other:

LookCleatPedal

And here’s a side view of the Look system when it is clipped in:

LookClippedSide

Both of these systems operate almost the same when it comes to clipping in and out of the pedals. You begin to engage the pedal by hooking the front (toe side) of the cleat in the front of the pedal, and then you press down with your heel to make the cleat “clip in” to the pedal. To remove your shoe from the pedal, you push your heel to the side, rotating your entire foot away from the bike, which causes the pedal clamp to disengage from the cleat and “unclip”.

Here’s what the SPD pedal looks like:

SpdPedal

You’ll notice that this pedal looks similar to a non-clipless pedal. That is because it has a standard pedal on the other side, which allows you to use regular shoes as well. I chose this because I wasn’t sure how committed I was to riding clipless all the time, and I figured that in bad weather I would still be wearing my Neos overshoes and would need a regular pedal. I have to say that I like my clipless system so much that I’m not sure I would buy these double sided pedals again if I had it to do over. The “clip only” pedals are smaller, lighter, and double sided, so you don’t have to fumble around getting the clip right side up when clipping in. Of course clip only pedals would mean that I’d have to find some serious cold weather overshoes to fit over my clipless shoes, and those get expensive. The weather is pretty nice for now, so I’m figuring that I’ll cross that bridge later when the weather gets nasty.

Here’s a close up of the SPD cleat and SPD pedal next to each other:

SpdCleatPedal

And here’s a side view of the SPD system when it is clipped in:

SpdClippedSide

Again, unclipping the SPD system is done in the same manner as the Look system, by rotating your heel sideways, away from the bike.

So which system is better?

Unfortunately I can’t answer that for you, but the kind of bike you’re riding can help narrow your decision.

If you are primarily riding a road bike, then you might choose to use either system, although you’re probably more likely to come across a road bike with a Look system.

If you are primarily riding a mountain bike, then you’re probably going to choose Shimano’s SPD system. There are other mountain bike systems out there, but from what I’ve seen SPD is the most common.

If you find yourself riding both road and mountain bikes, and you’d like to have a system that can be used with both, then you probably want to go with the SPD system. That way you can buy a single pair of shoes, and use them with all your bikes.

There are other clipless systems out there, but I’ve focused on two of the most common systems. When I go to the spinning class at my gym the machines have double sided pedals, with Look clips on one side, and SPD clips on the other. While that works in the gym, a pedal like that would be too large and heavy, so it wouldn’t be very practical on a real bicycle.

Shimano makes a system for road bikes they call SPD-SL, and it is very similar to a Look system. Crank Brothers make their unique “Eggbeater” system (named for the way the pedals look) which is primarily aimed at mountain bikes. There are numerous other clipless systems available, but you’ll have to do your own research to decide what’s best for you.

When you purchase a clipless system, you’ll buy at least two things:

1) The pedals, which usually come with a set of matching cleats

2) The shoes, which will have a drilled panel on the sole designed to accommodate a certain kind of cleats. Some shoes can accommodate multiple types of cleats. Be sure they’ll work with the pedals you choose.

One of the best things to do would probably be to go to your local bike shop and spend some time with one of the knowledgeable staff members discussing your needs, and seeing what they recommend. I bought my pedals at REI, and the folks there were very helpful.

This post described the different systems, so next time I’m going to get into more detail about the different pedals and shoes that are available.

As I’m sure you can tell, I really like riding clipless now. I rode with normal shoes the other day, and it felt just plain weird, and I really missed the added power from clipping in. I’m sold on clipless pedals, and if you’re thinking about making the switch I hope this information will be helpful.

UPDATE: You can read more about clipless shoes in the next post here. You can read about installing cleats on your shoes here.



Spring Springeth!

Our Utah weather is always a bit crazy this time of year. We had a few days of warmth, and then we got almost record amounts of snow this April, and Spring seemed like it was never going to show up. Based on my ride home today I am thinking it might finally be here!

TrekSpring3 

It was 38 degrees (F) when I left this morning. But it was sunny, and I really wanted it to be warm. I had my shorts on, and I really didn’t want to add any extra layers. Alas, sanity finally took hold as I stepped out the door, and I decided that I really needed a bit more of the uniform. So I put my Novara rain pants on, and added a microfleece pullover under my windbreaker.

The ride in was nice, and before long things had warmed up to the mid 60’s. I made it outside several times during the day, and each time I was thinking that the ride home sure was going to be nice.

I was right.

It was about 67 degrees (F) when I left the office. For the first time in a long time there was no headwind going home, and I was loving it. I felt really strong and it was the best ride home I’ve had in a long time. The hardest part of the trip was packing all my morning cold weather gear into my pannier… squish! 🙂

A couple of months ago I picked up a small rectangular pouch that fits under the front of my seat, just the perfect size for my camera. It has a wide mouth and Velcro flap that I can easily get into and out of while I’m riding. It has been too cold to use the camera since I’ve had full finger gloves on, but today I figured I’d try to take some riding pictures. A few turned out alright, so I’ll share them with you…

TrekSpring2

In this picture you can see my clipless setup that I mentioned in my last post

TrekSpring1

Hmm… probably need to clean that fender off under there…

TrekSpring4

Doing the picture taking thing, whilst pedaling mightily in rush hour traffic, whilst not crashing, seems to be an art form. I’ve seen some great bike photo blogs out there, and I’ve got a ways to go, but I’ll get it figured out.

I hope your rides are getting warmer too. Stay safe. (Even if you are a bit crazy and decide to try to take pictures while you’re riding) 🙂



Getting Started With Clipless Pedals
April 13, 2009, 1:37 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I used to wear normal running shoes for all of my rides, and I thought that clipless pedals were overkill. Recently however, between taking a spinning class, and the recommendation of a friend, I decided to give them a try. Wow, what a difference!

TrekAtOffice

I started out on my biking adventure pretty casually. In fact, I wasn’t even sure this whole biking thing would “stick”. I figured maybe it was just a phase. Obviously, if you read this blog, you know that it wasn’t just a phase, and that biking has become a regular part of my life that I really enjoy.

Part of my casual start of biking was just wearing normal shoes to ride. My Schwinn Midtown that I picked up at Costco just had normal pedals. In fact, I’m not even sure I knew what clipless pedals were. I had seen the old school pedals with straps on them, and had heard that serious bikers wore special shoes, but I had no idea how they worked. Although, as I started to learn more about modern bicycles it wasn’t long before I started encountering this strange concept called clipless pedals.

Now, for those of you that don’t know much about clipless pedals, let me say that I really think the name is confusing. I think it comes from the old school pedals with cages and straps on them that were referred to as clips, but now we have modern “clipless” pedals that you “clip into”. Yeah, go figure. I guess “clipmore pedals” really doesn’t work… but it seems like it would make more sense. 🙂

Anyway, regardless of what you think of their name, I have now become a believer in a clipless pedal system. It all started when I decided to try taking a spinning class at a local fitness center. I immediately noticed that the bikes has clipless pedals, and that most of the “regulars” in the class wore biking shoes and clipped in during their workout. I guess the peer pressure kind of got to me and I started thinking about getting some biking shoes for the class. Around this same time I talked with a friend who has been bike commuting for a number of years, and when he found out that I wore normal shoes to bike, he strongly recommended that I give clipless pedals and shoes a try.

At this point, I was convinced, but then I began to price a clipless system and quickly realized it wasn’t going to be a cheap endeavor. I also figured it was a pretty big investment if I ended up not liking them. About this same time I got my annual dividend back from REI, as well as a 20% discount coupon. REI also had some pedals on sale, so I decided to go for it.

I went to my local REI, and they had a decent selection of shoes to try on, as well as some very knowledgeable and helpful salespeople. After trying on several different styles of shoes I decided on the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Seek shoe.

One of the things that was kind of overwhelming about clipless systems is that there are many different kinds of cleats to choose from. I didn’t really know anything about the different systems, but it seemed like I had seen Shimano SPD cleats mentioned a lot. The folks at REI confirmed that most spinning cycles had SPD pedals, and that SPD was a very common system. So when it came to pedals, I decided on the Shimano M324 Combo pedal which had SPD cleats on one side and a normal pedal surface on the other. Since they are double sided I can still ride them with normal shoes if needed. Here’s a picture of the shoes with the cleats installed, and the combo pedal.

CliplessShoesPedal

The next step in the journey was getting used to riding while clipped into the pedals. I had heard a few horror stories about people not being able to get unclipped when they stopped so they fell over. Several people even went so far as saying that “you will fall over, it is just a matter of when and how many times”. The friend who had recommended going clipless encouraged me to go ride around a field for a while and practice clipping in and out a whole bunch.

Well, I was so anxious to try my new shoes and pedals that I completely ignored that advice and decided to just try them on my Monday morning commute. I started out slowly, using the non-clip side of the pedals until I got up to speed, and then clipping in. Every time I had to stop I clipped out early, and made sure I was ready to stop. That first day was great, and I figured I had this thing all figured out. Well, it didn’t take long before I was humbled. After a couple of days I decided to run over to the grocery store to pick up a couple of things, so it was a casual trip, and I wasn’t riding very seriously. I got to a big intersection that really requires me to cross in the crosswalks like a pedestrian. When I pulled onto the sidewalk to push the “walk” button for the stoplight I got off balance and couldn’t unclip in time. I fell over “in slow motion” on the sidewalk! It was Saturday afternoon, so the intersection was full of cars, and I was embarrassed. My ego was the only thing that was bruised though, so I popped back up quickly, trying to smile and laugh at myself so that everyone knew I was okay. The funny thing is, I didn’t see anyone watching me, and I’m not even sure anyone noticed.

So, after all that, what’s the big deal about a clipless pedal system? I have to say that I didn’t “get it” until I tried them, but the difference is amazing. One of the best ways I can think of to explain the difference is that it is like you mechanically “become one” with your bike. Your feet and legs become extensions of the crank arms, and just like the push rods on a real engine, you can apply power through the entire circle of your stroke. I immediately noticed that I felt a lot stronger and more efficient. It was much easier to stay in a faster gear, especially when climbing. I also noticed that all of the muscles in my legs were getting a workout, not just my quads. In fact, initially this was uncomfortable, and I’ve been a bit sore, but I think this is much better overall because my legs are getting a more balanced workout.

If you’ve never thought about it, I would encourage you to give clipless pedals a try.

UPDATE: I wrote another post with more detail about clipless pedal systems here.